The meeting point of current social anxieties in Nigeria is the highly contagious Coronavirus pandemic, otherwise known as COVID-19. Yet, because politics is the art of the possible, politicians seem to defy the general apprehension among the people by ventilating their aspiration in a covert attempt to serve the needs of the masses.
When the fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, followed up his announcement that his son has contracted the dreaded virus with a donation of N50million for containing the spread, most commentators tried to tie the gesture to his presidential ambition and leadership of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, the fact that corporate Nigeria and some philanthropic individuals and captains of industry joined in making their own donations to stem what has become clearly a national and global emergency, helped to douse the political implications of such interventions.
But despite the clear signals that there was fire on the mountain regarding the dangers posed by COVID-19 to Nigeria’s public health and social well being, political gladiators in some states, particularly Anambra, Bauchi and Edo States, seem not to be deterred by the pervading fears of the ‘Wuhan virus’.
While the scheming in Edo And Anambra States could be explained by the anticipated governorship polls in the states latter this year and the next, the situation in Bauchi seems to be propelled by recent events in the state, including the outcome of the 2019 general elections, which divided political influence in the state between the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
And although the COVID-19 alarm supervened to cool off the intra-party wrangling between the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and Governor Godwin Obaseki, as to who holds the greater size of the stake in the Edo State structure of the party, both the governor and his estranged political godfather has continued to work underground to dominate.
For Anambra State, which would be going to the polls towards the end of year 2021, the issue of zoning and qualities expected of the next governor after Chief Willie Obiano serves out his second and final term have combined to reduce the impact of Coronavirus concerns in the state.
As the three states grapple with the challenge of putting in place appropriate containment measures for the rapidly expanding COVID-19 infection rate, the approaches being adopted by some political actors to keep afloat their aspiration come in different dimension and hues:
Edo: Keeping Obaseki Guessing
When the Court of Appeal, Abuja granted Oshiomhole’s exparte order to resume as APC national chairman pending the determination of his substantive appeal against the FCT High Court ruling that upheld his suspension by his ward, the development was seen as a big relief.
Apart from putting hold the concerted action by some state governors elected on APC to remove him from office as national chairman, the exparte order also afforded the embattled national chairman the opportunity to make some amends in his leadership style and take bold steps at reconciling aggrieved stakeholders in the party.
Taking advantage of the national working committee (NWC) meeting he summoned in place of the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that would have sealed his fate, Oshiomhole recalled suspended members of the NWC, including the Deputy National Chairman (North), Senator Lawal Shuaibu and the Vice Chairman, (Northwest) Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir.
But while the fence mending kicked off within the NWC, nothing was heard about the situation in Edo State chapter of the party, which instigated the national dimension of the crisis. Sources close to the national chairman disclosed that Oshiomhole has resolved that Governor Obaseki would not be the standard-bearer of the party in the November 2020 governorship poll in Edo State.
The source disclosed that based on the factionalisation of the party in the state, the national chairman and his supporters are working towards a direct method of selecting the candidate during the governorship primary expected to take place in two months’ time.
While explaining that some discussions were held to bring in some members into the party, the source, a former federal lawmaker, said APC would have a candidate other than Governor Obaseki for the November election. He remarked that something similar to what obtained during the Bayelsa State governorship primary could also be replicated in Edo State to ensure that the party features on the ballot.
Going by the stipulations of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, only the national headquarters of a political party is qualified to send in the names of its candidates for any elective office.
From what the source said, it is possible that Comrade Oshiomhole, if he remains on the seat as national chairman when the Edo State governorship primary holds, might seek to play a fast one on Obaseki, which would leave the incumbent with the option of going to court as Senator Heineken Lokpobiri did in the Bayelsa State instance.
Ever since the Presidency intervened in the plot to sack Oshiomhole from office as national chairman, there has not been any direct meeting between him and Governor Obaseki to thrash out the internal crisis within Edo State APC.
Although the national chairman hinted during the NWC meeting that all cases in court would be withdrawn, the Barrister Anselm Ojezua and Col David Imuse, who are leading different factions, are still in court over who is the authentic APC state chairman in the state.
Apart from making available essential party materials to assist in the conduct of the governorship primary, the bulk of the job would be done by the Primary Election Committee to be empanelled and sent to the state from Abuja by the NWC.
As Obaseki is left to second guess what the NWC under Oshiomhole is up to, one of the aspirants for the governorship, who actually contested against the incumbent four years ago, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, has been campaigning as if he is sure to pick the APC ticket.
Penultimate week, Ize-Iyamu announced the appointment of a 13-member directorate of his campaign organization to “drive the SIMPLE agenda of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s campaign and consolidate on the gains recorded.”
Delivering a jab on the Obaseki administration, the statement announcing the appointment of the directors further explained: “We are confident that they will make significant contributions to our guided efforts to offer responsible leadership to the people of our dear state and coordinate the activities of the campaign which, at this time, is focused on helping the government in the fight against the scourge of the coronavirus disease and provide relief to the poor and vulnerable who are often the worst hit in times of economic disruption and social upheavals.”
The campaign committee also provided two help lines for residents of the state “in need of food materials to reach his campaign organisation for fast dispatch,” just as Pastor Ize-Iyamu commenced a statewide distribution of food staples and other helpful materials targeted at the most vulnerable.
Although most residents of Edo State believed that Ize- Iyamu, who moved back to APC from PDP ostensibly to contest the governorship poll a second time, was introducing a new dimension of stomach infrastructure under the cover of COVID-19 intervention, he denied the speculations.
Speaking while dispatching materials to the 64 wards in Edo North Senatorial District, Ize-Iyamu asserted: “Let me say clearly that we are doing this not for politics. We are doing it because there is a compelling need at this time to do it. Our target is1000 families and our plan is that every part of the state, in every ward, we should be able to touch a certain number of families.”
He challenged the Edo State Government to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown by setting up “food banks in rural communities and centres, where the poor can get food through a safe and conducive process to prevent starvation.”
With the boldness and surefootedness with which POI has been advancing his face and name recognition, which are critical factors in electoral contests, the impression that he was assured of the APC ticket before quitting PDP has continued to gain traction.
Despite the fact that Obaseki had declared that he would never abandon APC in search of an alternative platform, the possibility of a likely ambush against his second term aspiration by forces loyal to Oshiomhole could leave him with few options.
Although the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, expressed the belief that Oshiomhole holds the key to genuine reconciliation in Edo State chapter of APC, a former federal lawmaker and commissioner for Agriculture in the state, Hon Abdul Oroh, insists that Obaseki should begin the process of reconciliation by visiting and apologizing with stakeholders that helped enthrone him as governor.
Anambra: Confronting The Zoning Puzzle
As Governor Willie Obiano’s second and final term in office gradually approaches the finish line, political gladiators in Anambra State are divided on whether zoning or merit should be the basis of selecting the next governor.
The idea of zoning cropped up towards the buildup to the 2013 governorship, when the former Vice Presidential candidate of PDP, Mr. Peter obi, was rounding off his second term in office as governor on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
During that time it was argued that since Anambra North Senatorial District, from where Obiano hails, has not produced a governor of the state, it was necessary to zone the 2013 gubernatorial slot to the area for the sake of equity and fairness.
Although the process embarked upon by stakeholders from Anambra North to select a consensus candidate for the then governor’s support and endorsement as his successor threw up Dr. Chike Obidigbo, internal differences between Obi and the then national chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, brought in Obiano as a compromise candidate.
Having occupied the position of governor for two terms, the argument as to whether to retain zoning or allow the people of Anambra State to exercise their democratic rights by electing the best candidate as Obiano’s successor has once again reared its head, even when all three Senatorial zones had at one time or another produced governor.
It was against the background of the ongoing distractions that traditional rulers from Anambra North met and decided to plead with politicians not to divide the state on the basis of zoning, stressing that since at no point in time the people resolved on the issue of zoning, political parties should be allowed to field capable candidates for voters to decide.
Reading traditional rulers’ resolution, which was contained in their nine-point communiqué, the traditional ruler of Igbariam Ancient Kingdom, Okalakwu, His Imperial Majesty, Igwe (Dr) Nkeli Nzekwe Kelly, stated that traditional rulers are not in support of zoning, because politicians that are championing zoning are insincere.
He contended that while the proponents of zoning canvassed for zoning the governorship to a certain zone, they allowed other people to contest from other zones at the same time.
The traditional rulers stated: “We are royal fathers. We don’t tell lies. So, we see it as something confusing to us. You cannot say that you are zoning while you allow other people to contest from other zones.
“If they are allowed, may be, whatever happens is by grace of God and someone from another zone wins the election, what are you going to do? For example, you zoned the governorship to Igbariam people. Then it happens that since Igbariam is contesting; a candidate from Nando is contesting; and then Nando wins. Are you going to grab that winning? Are you going to retrieve that winning?
“So, what we call zoning is, if you zone something to somewhere, allow the person; allow all the contestants to come from that zone. If you will not be able to do that, there is nothing like zoning and that’s where we stand. So, politicians should go and tidy up their houses and make their plans and tell us where we are going. Our role is to bless anybody from any zone. You cannot rope us into believing that you zoned to somewhere while it is not workable.”
The traditional rulers maintained that their role in the forthcoming governorship election is “to monitor and make sure there is a credible election and we will back it up by giving you security as the chief security officers of our various communities. So, we are here to tell the world that we are not in support of zoning, period.”
Sounding the death knell to zoning further, Igboezue International Association (IIA), in a statement signed by its national publicity secretary, Mr. Charles Amafo, said what the politicians and the electorate should be asking for is the emergence of credible candidates to preside over the affairs of the state.
Amafo disclosed that the position of IIA is to ensure that the future of Anambra State was not jeopardized, adding, “We stand for the emergence of somebody who is credible; who can meet the needs of the people and bring home the dividends of democracy to the grassroots.”
Bauchi: Evening Out The Odds
It is still puzzling to the immediate past Governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, how the APC, which returned a majority of state and National Assembly lawmakers, should lose the governorship in 2019.
Governor Abubakar must have been surprised that despite the quantum of appointments made by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to indigenes of the state and his sterling performance, he should be denied a second term in office.
Among the high profile positions held by Bauchi State citizens are, the Secretary of the Tertiary Education Technical Fund (TETFund), Alhaji Sulieman Bogoro; the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN) Justice Tanko Muhammad, chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the Comptroller General of the Customs, Col. Hammeed Ali (retd) and the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi Retd).
In an interview with The Guardian shortly after the general elections, former Governor Abubakar disclosed that there was a high level conspiracy to deny him of victory at the governorship poll, adding that contrary to insinuations in some quarters about his presidential ambitions, he was about the only state governor that did not lobby to succeed President Buhari.
However despite the former governor’s denial of possible presidential ambition, not long after the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Mohammed Bala, who was returned as winner of the prolonged governorship election in the state, was sworn into office, he set up an Assets and Funds Recovery Committee to look into the alleged looting of state government’s properties by previous administrations.
As was to be expected, both the immediate past governor, Abubakar and Isa Yuguda, were indicted by the committee for misappropriating funds and diverting assets belonging to the state to their personal use.
As the report of the committee’s findings was being made public, the incumbent governor vowed to prosecute the former governors and their former aides indicated by the committee on Asset Recovery.
Former governor Abubakar had maintained his innocence, stressing that the committee, which he accused of witch hunt, did not grant him the right to fair hearing since according to him no invitations were sent across to him to appear before the panel.
Abubakar also indicated that the various movable and immovable assets, for which he was falsely indicted by the committee, include items he properly purchased with his personal resources, adding that his case against the committee was still pending in court.
Perhaps incensed by the attempts to drag the former governor’s image on the mud, some members of the state House of Assembly were said to have met in nearby Gombe State, where plans were hatched to revive the leadership crisis in the state Assembly by impeaching the Speaker, Alhaji Abubakar Suleiman, and thereby lay the foundations for the eventual removal of Governor Mohammed.
By virtue of the distribution of membership in the state Assembly, the APC has 22 lawmakers, while PDP has just eight and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) one. With that superior numerical advantage, it is obvious that if APC succeeds in impeaching the Speaker, who is seen to be loyal to the PDP administration, it would be easy for the opposition to hold Governor Mohammed to ransom and cause him to show respect to his predecessor.
How far the plots would go by way of successful execution depends on how early Governor Mohammed, who is being quarantined after testing positive of the Coronavirus, returns to his seat. But for now, the air of turbulent political exchanges is blowing in the state.